Maryland's future scientists are in jeopardy, and our antiquated charter school law is partially to blame.
Our inability to get things right with our charter law is endangering high-performing charter schools, putting them at risk for closure. Repeatedly, hundreds of families fear their treasured schools will not remain open at the hands of an unclear standard for their operation. In some cases, the law severely limits a school's ability to operate with the flexibility it takes for it to be successful.
This burden placed on our best schools is especially surprising given the need for more high-skilled workers to fill the growing number of jobs in our expanding technology industry. With Baltimore recently being ranked by Forbes Magazine as the fifth best city for technology job growth in 2012, it is more important than ever that our children have the tools to keep up with the progress of our state. However, even as our students are making great strides in technology — from a recent discovery in pancreatic cancer testing to earning national recognition for science competitions — the same schools that trained those students are in constant danger of being shut down.
One of those schools is Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School (CSP). A few of the school's achievements include:
- scoring highest among four schools in Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) with similar African-American populations;
- ranking No. 1 out of more than 1,300 middle schools at the national American Math Challenge and
- consistently ranking as one of the top performers in Anne Arundel County due to the percentage of students scoring "advanced" on the Maryland School Assessment.
As Marylanders, we should be proud of schools like CSP, which are building a pipeline of Maryland students to fill future technology jobs.
We're moving in the right direction, but we are not moving fast enough. Research shows that 77 percent of new Maryland jobs will require some sort of post-secondary education by 2018, but only 44 percent of Maryland adults currently hold an associate's degree or higher. We must buttress high-performing schools that can eventually change this statistic.
It all starts with support for schools like CSP. Despite the noteworthy performance of CSP, it experienced a contentious charter renewal process as a result of Maryland's unclear and restrictive charter law. One school board member called Maryland's charter law "the most restrictive charter law in the country." As a result of these restrictions and the law's lack of clarity, CSP's charter renewal experience consisted of confusion and debate in communication between the school board and the school's families. The future of CSP was in limbo despite its accolades, and parents did not know where to turn. Though the school's charter was eventually renewed for three years, details of the renewal are still murky. Without a strong charter bill, this can happen to other high-performing schools.
As a state, we know what we want: schools that give our kids the tools to contribute to the growth of their communities and state. We know we need to do everything possible to prepare our kids for the jobs of the future. That means supporting great schools like CSP.
Moving forward, we need to come together to fight for a clear process for charter renewal and an improved charter law. When we choose to reward success, we will be able to focus on ensuring that our state continues to flourish. The first step is to make sure Maryland families never again have to experience the frustration associated with such a disheartening experience. Let's support the continued achievement of our children and state by advocating for the sustainability of our high-performing schools.
Curtis Valentine is the founding executive director of the advocacy group MarylandCAN: The Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article also appeared in the Capital Gazette